In attempting to turn an elected president into a figurehead, then a refugee, Israel is sending a clear message to all Palestinians and Arabs. Its decision to expel Yasser Arafat, or worse, is part of a consistent policy. Since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel has been determined to turn the interim self-rule agreement into a final one. Israel has never accepted the historic compromise that Arafat hoped would come out of Oslo: a Palestinian state within the pre- 1967 lines.
The ‘treachery’ of the Oslo Accords earned Yitzhak Rabin two bullets in the chest. Sharon is yet to fully punish the Palestinians.
From Operation Defensive Shield to the apartheid wall (carving off nearly 45 per cent of the West Bank); from the targeting of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin to the threats against Arafat, Israel has one thing in mind, to force the Palestinians into accepting a final settlement that falls short of their basic needs and aspirations.
This is why Israel is not sparing moderate leaders, such as Ismail Abu Shanab of Hamas. It is targeting the very people who negotiate and work towards a political solution. It has purposely undermined the political mission of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The first Palestinian prime minister had to resign after the truce he put together failed to convince Israel to pull out from Palestinian areas, remove roadblocks, and ease the stifling blockade.
Israel wants to block all chances of negotiations, and is likely to continue to do so regardless of how reconciliatory the Palestinians may get. Israel has intentionally torpedoed Oslo, the roadmap, and any political solution involving a viable Palestinian state. The only Palestinian state Israel would approve of is one made up of discontinuous cantons with a Palestinian flag.
This policy has more to do with Israel’s Zionist ambitions (over all of Palestine) than its security needs. The concessions made by Arafat (1967 land instead of 1948) put Israel at no security risk whatsoever. Arafat has agreed that the future state would be disarmed; that Israel would control its borders in land, sea, and air; and that the right of return would be confined to symbolic compensations, or replaced with the right to return to the pre-1967 areas—rather than the land and property the Palestinians had in 1948. Arafat also agreed to share nominal sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Since the signing of Oslo, the stumbling bloc of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations has been Israel’s rejection of this quid pro quo. The Oslo Accords were seriously flawed. They approved of a five-year interim self-rule period without determining the end result. The accords left all the issues of the final settlement unresolved—land, water, borders, Jerusalem, and settlements. All these matters were left for talks on a final settlement that were scheduled to take place before the end of the third year of the interim phase, but never materialised. The Oslo accords also neglected to mention that the legal point of reference for the final settlement is UN resolutions that state clearly that the land Israel took in 1967 is occupied and must go back to the Palestinians.
Far from seeking peace, Sharon has inflamed the surrent of racism amongst Israelis against Arabs.
For the duration of the interim phase, Arafat and Israeli leaders failed to agree on what should have been a clearly-stated end result. Arafat was ready to accept a state on the land of 1967 (22 per cent of the historic Palestine). Israel, for its part, wanted to turn the self-rule areas into the final borders of a disconnected, disarmed Palestinian state with flawed sovereignty.
Every single crisis that occurred in the course of the interim arrangements—the crossing points, the harbour, the airport, the detainees, and the redeployment—surfaced because of this disagreement, because of the failure of the Oslo Accords to state unambiguously the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to a state of their own within the entire area they had in 1967.
Israel dragged its feet in the redeployment of its own troops, while enlarging the areas occupied by settlers. It made demands on the Palestinians, hinting that their position may improve in the final settlement talks if they behaved. In particular, Israel wanted the Palestinian Authority to act as a policeman and collect Palestinian arms. Meanwhile, it postponed implementing its obligations so as to force the PA to make essential changes, changes leading to the establishment of a fragmented state.
Arafat responded with a familiar tactic. He would call off resistance operations against Israel when the latter is pulling out its forces according to schedule and allow these operations when Israel is procrastinating. The hard part was to keep doing that without triggering a Palestinian civil war.
The interim period ended with Israel having pulled out of a mere 42 per cent of the West Bank and Gaza and with the final settlement talks failing to start. Israel, displeased with Arafat’s performance, did all it can to cast him in the role of a staunch terrorist, an inflexible demagogue, and a cynical politician disinterested in the welfare of his own people. Arafat’s concessions never lived up to Israel’s expectations.
Just before the end of Clinton’s presidency, Arafat went for a summit meeting with Ehud Barak in Camp David. When the summit failed, Zionist propagandists blamed the Palestinian president. The offer that Barak presented in that summit was 90 per cent of the West Bank and Gaza with Israel keeping most of its major settlements intact. Barak offered to return 50 per cent of the land to the Palestinians and hold further talks on the future of the remaining 40 per cent over the next 20 years. Israel, according to Barak, would maintain control over all of Jerusalem with the exception of the Arab quarter. Arafat was asked to agree to all the above and state that the Palestinians “have no further demands”. This was the proposal Arafat refused to sign. Since then, the Palestinian president has been cast as a terrorist with no interest in peace.
The incursion into al-Aqsa mosque grounds in 2000 was a cynical ploy that Sharon knew would destroy peace talks with Palestinians.
With the eruption of the second Intifada—triggered by Sharon’s incursion into the premises of Al-Aqsa mosque—relations between Arafat and Israel reached rock bottom. Through successive operations (100 Days, Field of Thorns, Defensive Shield), Israel wanted to force the Palestinians to accept what Arafat rejected, a fragmented state under Israeli hegemony. This is why Israel launched repeated onslaughts against Palestinian self-rule bodies and security services, engaged in targeted killings, and imposed a blockade aimed at starving and suffocating the Palestinians.
All of Israel’s last three prime ministers (Netanyahu, Barak, Sharon) were staunch opponents of the Oslo Accords. All have declared their intention to scrap the accords and reverse any gains the Palestinians may have attained as a result. The tug of war continues to this day, with Israel’s threat to expel Arafat being merely the last episode in an ongoing ordeal. Israel is determined to strike at all the figures of the Palestinian national movement, while continuing to build the separation wall and block all chances for talks, even with moderate Palestinians.
Israel is not threatening Arafat because it wants him replaced with a more capable Palestinian leadership. Its sole purpose is to create new facts on the ground and usurp all of Palestine. Israel is willing to sanction a self-rule Palestinian administration but only in disconnected, isolated pockets. The Palestinian state that Israel is prepared to endorse has no place for national figures, only for individuals who succumb to Israeli demands. This is what Israel wants and what the Palestinians have resisted, and will continue to do so.